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College alumna braves front lines in Iraq

Kelly Meehan | Monday, March 26, 2007

When Saint Mary’s alumna Jessica Millanes graduated in 2004, she landed an office with a view.

A view of the Iraqi desert, that is.

Millanes bypassed the entry-level job standard for most new graduates and was posted as a first lieutenant communications officer of the first Marine Logistics Group.

Like her grandfather who served in Korea, Millanes said she felt a strong draw to “do something” to serve her country, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A Marines display in the Noble Family Dining Hall caught her eye during her freshman year, and she said she immediately felt a call to serve. Just a few years later, she found herself in the heart of conflict.

As a Data Platoon Commander, Millanes served on the front lines in Iraq, in charge of all data-related aspects of her base and the surrounding environment – responsibilities that spanned from helping a user log onto a computer to obtaining data from satellites.

“I was in charge of an extremely proficient and loyal group of Marines – they made my job easy,” she said.

There were certainly challenges, however.

Millanes said being away from loved ones was the most difficult aspect of the seven months she spent in Iraq.

She said the perks of her job with the Communications Company, including constant access to a telephone and computer, eased the strains on her relationships.

“I was able to e-mail every day and phone home whenever I wanted,” she said. “We were on opposite time zones so I often had to wake up early to catch my boyfriend as he was going to sleep – a small price to pay to stay connected. “

Millanes spent three summers during college training to become a Marines officer, and an additional year of school in Virginia before her final phase of training in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“I had spent a decent amount of time preparing for Iraq, and I was excited to go,” she said. “After all, it was the reason I joined.”

And while controversy surrounds the conflict in Iraq, Millanes said she strongly supports President Bush’s war-related decisions.

“Marines are the ones feeling the effects of the president’s decisions,” she said. “I’d rather see the job in Iraq be complete and not have all of our hard work go to waste because we pulled out too soon.”

Millanes said predicting an end date to U.S. involvement in Iraq is not reasonable.

“The situation in Iraq seems to be ever changing and fluid,” she said. “I’m not sure a set-end date is a responsible thing to do.”

She said she wishes that those who yearn to see an end to the war could see the good things many young Marines do each day.

“Young men and women are making difficult decisions and taking responsibility for them,” she said. “Whenever there are stories on the news of young people in America doing drugs or committing crimes, I wish they could meet my Marines – young men and women who decided they wanted more out of life and show up every day to put in an honest days work with diligence.”

Millanes recently ended her tour in Iraq and said she looks forward to readjusting to the Southern California lifestyle.

The foundation of her experience in Iraq, she said, was the strong sense of self she developed while at Saint Mary’s.

“Saint Mary’s gave me a solid foundation for being a strong woman that can thrive in any situation,” she said. “I will always be grateful for that.”